Eastern India ravaged by floods

BY CHINTAN NANAVATI | BALTIMORE | July 25, 2001



"There is an immediate need for food, plastic sheets for shelter, hygiene kits, clothes, cattle feed and paddy seeds for the flood-affected populace."

—Paul Butler


Answering calls to help the nearly 8 million people who have been impacted by floods in eastern India, US disaster response organizations are battling the elements to provide emergency relief to the survivors of Orissa’s worst flooding in nearly two decades.

According to disaster response organizations, more than 500,000 people are still marooned by floodwaters and unconfirmed reports say that at least 99 people have died in the deluge which has caused widespread damage across the coastal state.

In what has been the worst flooding in Orissa -- one of India's

poorest states -- since 1982, 18,000 houses have been destroyed, 9,000 villages have been affected and 750,000 acres of farmland have been ruined.

The situation was compounded when the Indian government was forced to open the sluice gates of the Hirakud Dam on the Mahanadi, the state's largest river, to release water from the rain-battered neighboring state of Chhattisgarh.

The state government has said that the clean-up operation to repair roads, bridges and houses could cost up to $212 million (USD). Indian Prime Minister Atal Behari Vajpayee announced July 18 that initially the equivalent of about $21.2 million (USD) would be set aside for relief and rescue operations.

The Catholic Relief Services (CRS) office in Bhubaneswar, Orissa's capital city, is among relief organizations that are assessing the needs of flood survivors. CRS is also coordinating the work of several other non-governmental

organizations in and around the city. The Bhubaneswar office's

emergency response team -- which includes 42 management and 197 field staff -- has visited areas where the flood did much of its damage and has found that food, temporary housing, hygiene kits, clothes, seeds and cattle feed will be crucial to the relief effort.

Paul Butler, CRS' Zonal Director for Calcutta, said a staggering

rainfall in Orissa over a 10-day period when more than 18 inches of rain fell, was responsible for the deadly flooding.

"Normally, the state receives 10 inches in the month of July. So

rainfall has been 80 percent above the normal level."

In addition, a low-pressure system in the Bay of Bengal exacerbated the situation with Orissa's four main rivers -- the Mahanadi, the Kathajodi, the Kushabhadra and the Brahmani -- bursting their banks and inundating many areas.

Butler said that CRS/Calcutta has committed $100,000 of its private

funds to provide immediate relief and has released approximately 100

tons of bulgur and oil for immediate distribution to those left

stranded by the floods.

He added, "There is an immediate need for food, plastic sheets for

shelter, hygiene kits, clothes, cattle feed and paddy seeds for the

flood-affected populace."

Meanwhile, Church World Service Associate Director Donna Derr said

her organization's partners in India, Churches Auxiliary for Social

Action (CASA), last Friday (July 20) begun distributing essential

items to families in Khurda, Cuttack, Puri and Jagatsinghpur

districts, some of the hardest-hit in the state.

"This is obviously a fluid operation and, as the situation develops,

these numbers might change, but the current implementation timetable

is that within two weeks, we will have distributed tarpaulins, dry

food rations and sterile water to 12,000 families in those four

districts," she said.

The families will each receive "relief sets" consisting of: 1 sari (a

garment worn by Indian women), 1 dhoti (a garment worn by men), 1

blanket and 1 nine-piece set of aluminum kitchen utensils.

CWS has sent $30,000 in emergency blanket funds to CASA. It has also asked its member denominations for an additional $75,000 of support and is supporting a larger appeal from Action for Churches Together Network (ACT).

But CASA Director Sushant Agrawal painted a bleak picture of the

human cost of the disaster thus far.

"The official death toll is in the region of about 42 as of (Tuesday,

July 24), but every day the death toll is mounting -- both on account

of the floods, as well as the epidemics which are beginning to break

out. Gastroenteritis and cholera cases have already been reported."

CASA's members include 24 Protestant and Orthodox Churches in India

and CASA functions as the only outreach arm of these Churches. As the

Related Agency of the National Council of Churches in India, CASA is

mandated to do relief work on behalf of all the Protestant Churches,

including the Lutheran Churches in India.

World Vision, contributed more than $100,000 for the first phase of

relief work. The organization distributed 10kg of rice, 2kg of

jaggery (country sugar) and one tarpaulin for temporary shelter each

to 1,000 families in Jagatsinghpur district.

World Vision workers reported that floodwaters were beginning to

recede in the area by Tuesday (July 24), as there had been no

rainfall in the previous three days.

"But as the waters go down, the danger is from water-borne diseases,"

said Samresh Nayak, Operations Manager and head of aid-distribution.

He said World Vision is distributing cooked food, water-purifying

tablets and anti-diarrhea pills. More than 10,000 people have

received cooked food, water, biscuits, candles, matchboxes and

tarpaulins for temporary shelter in the Balikuda and Kujang blocks of

Jagatsinghpur district.

"All houses are totally collapsed as they were made of mud and

thatch, said Nayak of houses in many villages inundated by the

floods. "The only good buildings are schools, and they are in water

up to the windowsill."

He added that the high water levels have driven snakes to higher

ground where people are camped and that there have been reports of

two snakebite deaths.

Lutheran World Service (LWS) in India has targeted 20,000 families in

the districts of Kendrapara, Jagatsinghpur and Puri, providing around

100,000 people with food aid and distributing water purifying and

sanitation materials in 200 communities. Also, 5,000 families who

lost their planted crops were given 30kg of seeds and 40kg of

fertilizers to cultivate one acre of land. LWS has also issued a

public appeal for funds totaling $902,005.

K.G. Mathaikutty, Program Coordinator with LWS-India, spoke of the

menace to displaced people of crocodiles in addition to the

"ever-present danger of snake and scorpion bites.

"The crocodiles from the Bhitarakanika sanctuary have been straying

out of their natural territories due to the floods and are attacking

helpless, flood-affected villagers of Kendrapara district. Two

persons have died so far due to crocodile attacks," he said.

United Evangelical Lutheran Churches in India (UELCI) has targeted

12,000 families in 100 villages of Nayagarh district. The programs

include distribution of food for 10 days as well as candles, matches,

lanterns, cooking utensils, clothes, medical assistance, temporary

shelter and agricultural assistance.

The Christian Reformed World Relief Committee (CRWRC) has also been

active in Orissa since the "super cyclone" of 1999, which left 10,000

people dead. The CRWRC has been working with its local partner, the

Evangelical Fellowship of India's Commission on Relief (EFICOR) on a

rehabilitation project including a Food for Work grains distribution

program. EFICOR is now diverting those resources into an emergency

response to the latest floods. This includes setting up community

kitchens in, distributing bread to and providing medical help for

stricken villages.

The American Red Cross Officer for International Communications

Leslie VanSant said that the Indian Red Cross together with the

American Red Cross, Spanish Red Cross, German Red Cross and the

International Federation of Red Cross and Red Crescent Societies are

also responding to the crisis.

Their initial relief operations included the distribution of plastic

sheeting, high-calorie biscuits, water purification tablets, oral

rehydration salts, clothing, candles and matchboxes to nearly 40,000

flood survivors.

The Indian Red Cross also helped Orissa's state government pack food

rations for air-drops by the Indian armed forces whichhave made

around 20 helicopter flights each day to remote areas.

"And the American Red Cross is helping to provide nearly

$100,000-worth of relief supplies for distribution by the Indian Red

Cross," added VanSant.

But the work of the relief agencies is only just beginning. State

relief officials are warning that the worst may be yet to come. The

monsoon period in Orissa has only just begun and the heaviest rains are usually reported during the month of September.

And as relief pours into India, record flooding has also been reported in northern Pakistan. The capital city of Islamabad and nearby Rawalpindi, were inundated with 13 inches of rain in just 6 hours Monday night and more than 150 deaths have been reported .

The CWS-Pakistan Office has sent a rapid response team to the affected region to assess the situation and to begin emergency relief operations.


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